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2018 Van Cise Recipient: Ella Kunitzer


This year will be my second year showing my leased pony, Sunni. I’ve been on and off many different horses since I started riding five years ago, and I must admit I’m not the most confident rider at times. Sunni and I have worked hard to prepare for showing First Level this year, but up until I rode in these clinics, I didn’t truly feel ready. The Dolly Hannon clinic was the day after a show, she had judged our ride and then helped us with specific movements in the clinic. Jacquie Brooks’ clinic was a standalone event that my trainer helped me secure. Jacquie helped Sunni and I gain our confidence back and feel ready overall for the upcoming show season. 

The “Fix a Test” clinic with Dolly Hannon was my first clinic ever. I was incredibly nervous and didn’t know quite what to expect but it went very smoothly. I’m thankful for Dolly’s kind nature but also for her firm teaching style. She helped me calm down, which certainly helped my riding, and then she helped me work on specific movements. Sunni and I have been working a lot on leg yields to prepare for this coming summer, and yet they still aren't’ perfect. Dolly noticed this and it was something she really helped us with. She taught us not only how to get them the one time, but how to work on getting them perfect every single ride. She taught us to practice leg yielding with Sunni’s nose to the wall so she can’t escape and/or trail her hindquarters. We did different patterns such as: leg yielding with Sunni’s nose to the wall from B to M, straightening right before the corner, controlling Sunni’s hindquarters through the corners, turning on the quarter-line before H, and leg yielding to the wall at E. This has continued to really help me to control the leg yield, a small but important part of First Level. 

Another thing that Dolly did that may have seemed like a minute detail to anyone else was call Sunni a “fancy pony.” One thing I really struggle with that affects my riding is not feeling up to par with my competitors. I half-lease this 13.3hh Norwegian Fjord and I’m expected to compete against girls who own these stunning Warmbloods? Dolly helped me realize that Sunni and I are every bit as fancy as our competitors and can do just as well. 

My clinic with Jacquie Brooks was an entirely different experience. She was kind but she wasn’t easy on us. With her, both Sunni and I worked to our absolute maximum. She noticed that Sunni wasn’t sitting properly, was too on the forehand, and helped us to fix it. We worked for a good 50 minutes getting Sunni to sit, teaching me to ask Sunni how to sit, and working on transitions with Sunni still sitting. She took the skills that I had been working on and cemented them. She showed me that Sunni and I had it in us, we just had to work hard to perfect our First Level skills. Minor details such as using my outside rein on a circle, and finding the hollow of Sunni’s back to sit in really helped my ride be the best it could be. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know these things before the clinic, it was that Jacquie came up with a new way to explain them to me that helped them click in my mind. Jacquie took what I thought I could give her and pushed me past and. I’m grateful because she proved to everyone, including me, that I’m ready to show First Level this coming summer. 

After my first two clinics with Dolly Hannon and Jacquie Brooks, I feel more ready than ever for this summer’s show season. They helped me perfect movements, push past what I thought I could do, and most importantly, gain confidence. This show season, I’m hoping to put out my best effort with Sunni and prove to everyone around me that I may not have my own horse, but I’m just as good of a rider as them. Having your own horse doesn’t make all the difference, and I have Dolly Hannon, Jacquie Brooks, and my trainer Whitney Petersen-McIntosh to thank for proving that to me.